How Do I Compost Vegetables in the Garden?

You may not think much of tossing vegetable scraps into the garbage can. After all, most kitchen waste is undeniably biodegradable. Yet food and yard waste take up as much as one-third of the country's landfill space and contribute to ozone-harming methane gas when collected in large quantities. Composting your vegetable scraps instead of throwing them away enables you to reduce how much garbage your household produces while also making free garden fertilizer. Combine high-nitrogen materials like vegetables and grass clippings with high-carbon ingredients such as shredded leaves to achieve the perfect balance that quickly turns your "garbage" into "black gold" for your garden.

Prepare Your Kitchen

Rinse salad and leftover cooked vegetables made with dressing, cheese, butter or other dairy products. Milk products and oils go rancid in the compost pile and may draw pests. Clean the crisper drawers in your refrigerator of produce no longer suitable for eating. Lettuce leaves, broccoli heads and soft-fleshed vegetables like eggplant are notorious for spoiling before cooks have a chance to use them. Similarly, look in the pantry for spoiled garlic, onions or potatoes.

Collect vegetable refuse in a small bucket when preparing meals. Potato and carrot peels, corn husks and cobs, tough cabbage and kale leaves, winter squash shells, rotten or browning chunks of otherwise usable produce and the inedible stems and seeds of vegetables all make suitable compost.

Food Disposal

Chop or shred large pieces of vegetable waste before adding them to the compost pile. Corn cobs and husks may be chopped with a sturdy knife, while softer cooked leftovers like acorn squash shells may be either chopped or ground in a food processor.

Pull old vegetable plants from the garden at the end of their growing season. Burn or discard diseased plants rather than adding them to the compost pile. Bring all vegetable scraps and pulled vegetable plants to your outdoor composting area. Lay down a 6-inch layer of wood chips or twigs.

Tending Your Compost Area

Combine vegetable scraps and spent plants with other high-nitrogen materials to form a 3-inch layer. Nitrogen-rich ingredients for a compost pile include vegetables, fruit peels and cores, manure and grass clippings.

Cover vegetables and other nitrogen materials with a 6-inch carbon layer of ingredients such as hay, sawdust or shredded leaves. Water the layers until they are damp. Add additional layers of nitrogen and carbon materials, watering every few layers. Finish when the heap reaches between 3 and 5 feet tall and wide. Turn your compost pile frequently. Till compost into your garden when it breaks down into black, soil-like hummus. Compost may also be mixed with potting soil for container plants and laid over the garden soil during the growing season instead of store-bought fertilizers.

Other Tips

Other food scraps that may be composted include fruit peels, chopped fruit cores, oatmeal, bread, pasta, rice, coffee grounds and tea bags.

If you build your compost a little at a time rather than in layers, use one bucket of vegetable scraps for every three buckets of carbon-rich materials like leaves and hay. Poke holes in an existing pile and bury vegetable scraps at least 6 inches deep. This step reduces the risk of rats, raccoons, flies or unpleasant smells from plaguing your heap.

Vermicomposting represents an additional way to compost vegetables. These worm bins may be kept indoors and used to dispose of shredded papers and kitchen waste. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1 lb. of worms may process 1/2 pound of household waste each day. Worm bins may be created from repurposed plastic containers. Specialty vermicomposters are also available at garden centers and online.

It's possible to bury food scraps directly into a garden, but you run the risk of disturbing the roots of existing plantings as you dig. In addition, vegetable peels and other scraps release excess nitrogen as they decompose, which may burn the roots of nearby plants.

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